Page 93 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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EPSTEIN / CONVERSION TO JUDAISM
85
life than on conversionary problems, but it was designed to
guide those studying Judaism while considering conversion. It
provides a traditional overview of Judaism for those in conver­
sion classes.
ORTHODOX APPROACH
While the Orthodox movement welcomes converts, it does
not recognize conversions performed by non-Orthodox rabbis
(or Orthodox rabbis if the convert, for instance, did not agree
to accept all 613 mitzvot). Indeed, the question of conversion,
along with a variety of other subjects, such as marriage, divorce,
and the nature and role of halakhah, has caused serious rifts
among the various movements. Conversion questions involve
such matters as the qualifications of those entitled to perform
conversions; the nature of the Bet Din that evaluates converts;
whether or not a convert must agree to accept the mitzvot; the
other requirements for conversion such as circumcision; wheth­
er or not a potential convert is eliminated as a candidate for
conversion because the desire to become Jewish was prompted
by a romantic attachment to a Jewish partner, and other issues.
The religious rift regarding conversion does not just involve
American Jewry. Another source of friction between the O r­
thodox and non-Orthodox is the possibility of amending the
Law of Return in Israel so that automatic citizenship would be
granted only to those converts to Judaism who have been con­
verted “according to halakhah,” that is, according to how the
Orthodox rabbinate in Israel understands halakhah, an under­
standing which precludes the possibility of an acceptable con­
version being performed by a Reform or Conservative rabbi.
One useful pamphlet to explain the legal background of this
struggle is
Who Is A Jew (1958-1988)
by Moshe Samet (Jerusa­
lem: Hemdat, 1988).
One very coherent explanation of the Orthodox position on
conversion can be found in
Who Is A Jew? 30 Questions and An­
swers About This Controversial and Divisive Issue
by Jacob Imman­
uel Schochet (New York: Shofar Publications, 1989). The book
presents questions in a logically-progressive fashion to argue
a traditional interpretation of conversion. Schochet is an intel­
lectually acute defender of his views. His book is also valuable
for the supplementary material it reprints.